Saturday, January 19, 2013

Examining NFL Championship Sunday

NFL Championship Sunday features four of the most unique football teams in the NFL. New England Patriots high powered offense faces the legends of NFL defense Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in a 2012 AFC Championship rematch. Clearly the Ravens and Patriots are the cream of the crop in the AFC. Ravens style of defense is "Taylor Made" for postseason success led by HOF to be linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. Since moving Jim Caldwell from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator the Ravens have become a more balanced on offense scoring over 30pts in two of their last four games. Torrey Smith has become the big play threat Baltimore believed he could become and Anquan Boldin has provided the veteran consistency Ravens needed on the other side of the hash marks. Against the Denver Broncos Torrey Smith looked like Larry Fitzgerald and Joe Flacco passed the football like Kurt Warner. If Baltimore can get that type of impact from the passing game to compliment Ray Rice the Ravens will be flying south for winter and headed to New Orleans. The only question would be what sermon will Ray Lewis preach on Sunday maybe "I can do all things through Christ" would be appropriate.

New England Patriots the model of offensive consistency and NFL postseason attraction is back in the AFC Championship. Tom Brady is undefeated in Foxboro during the postseason and no one questions Bill Belichick even if he is setting up cameras at Ravens practice facilities. Before and after spy gate Patriots continue to be the best franchise since the year 2001. Twelve years of dynasty type consistency builds confidence in any franchise and the ability to adapt has been even better. New England has gone from defensive show stoppers in the early 2000's to offensive juggernauts with Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and  Stevan Ridley. Gronkowski is hurt but the Patriots still have enough weapons to keep the Ravens defense busy. All three of the Patriots Super Bowls have come as #1 or #2 seeds and controlling home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Forward to 2012- 2013 and the Patriots once again have full control of the home field category. Tom Brady's 2012-2013 offense has a lot of weapons and the young defense has been steady all season. In the end Patriots defense must stop the Ravens offense and become the "X Factor" that carries the Patriots to another Super Bowl.

Atlanta Falcons are like the great Phoenix bird born out of fire. For years the Falcons had what is considered possibly one of the best offenses in the NFL. Pro Bowl players at every position Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner, Roddy White and the young "Matty Ice". We always focused the success of the offense on keeping Matt Ryan cool in the pocket and as the offensive line protection goes so does the Falcons. It was the failure of the offensive line in playoff games that led to playoff failures. Matt Ryan was sacked 28 times this season the worst of his career but the addition of Julio Jones allowed Ryan to have his greatest season as a NFL pro so far throwing 4,719 yards, 32TD's and 99.1 QBR all career highs. Ryan to White is almost as natural as Montana to Rice but can the combo produce a trip to the Super Bowl or orchestrate the take over of New Orleans in a Mardi Gras type festival on Bourbon Street for Falcons fans in New Orleans. Atlanta's "D-Block" defense is one of the best in the NFL overshadowed by the offensive talents the Falcons defense was 5th in scoring points allowed at 18.2 and only allowing more than 29pts twice during the regular season. Sean Weatherspoon is a Pro Bowl caliber player and top notch linebacker in the NFL. Asaunte Samuel, William Moore, Dunta Robinson and Thomas DeCoud monitor one of the best secondaries in the NFL. Falcons have a lot of talent minus the fact their best corner back Brent Grimes has been out all season long.

San Francisco 49ers probably the most feared team in the NFL playoffs is still breathing and ready to bring the heat to Hotlanta. San Francisco's defense is loaded with a list of All Pro and NFC Pro Bowl players Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. In other words 49ers put fear into the heart of offensive coordinators league wide. What the 49ers poses in defensive talent as a collective group reminds me of the 1985 Chicago Bears. Add a up and coming offense to the mix and San Francisco looks more like a stick of dynamite ready to explode. Colin Kaepernick was beyond good in his first postseason appearance against the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional round, he was awesome rushing for 181 yards. Frank Gore provides a steady dose of smash and pound out of the back field and Vernon Davis when actively targeted is one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Michael Crabtree is exploding before the eyes of the 49ers faithful 9rec, 119yds and 2 TD's versus Packers.

Bottom Line: In my seasons prediction article I pin pointed the 49ers and Patriots as the top two NFL teams. Atlanta Falcons was ranked #3 "So Far, So Good" but is the Falcons home field advantage enough to flip #2 with #3?

"When Seahawks came to the Georgia Dome I sat in section 101 and the Dome was ear piercing loud at times"

Betting Line: +8pts for the Ravens is shaky the game could be closer than expected take Patriots in a straight bet. 2011-2012 AFC Championship score was 20-23 Patriots, Sept 23rd 2012 Ravens defeated Patriots 30-31 both games.

Key to Victory: San Francisco's poor Red Zone offense (52.54%) versus Atlanta's great Red Zone defense (46.81%) is going to be key to which team wins the game. Calling Akeem Dent, Sean Weatherspoon and Jonathan Babineaux. Flip it around and the Falcons hot Red Zone scoring faces the 49ers terrible Red Zone defense. "Yes, terrible" 49ers allow opponents to score on 61.54% of trips to the Red Zone and Falcons score at a 59.09% clip in the Red.

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